A PLAN to reorganise the diocese of Carlisle into 40 ecumenical
"mission communities" has been approved by the diocesan synod.
The proposal will bring the diocese's 270 parishes into about 40
larger groupings with Methodist and United Reformed Church (URC)
congregations. Each community will have a leader, who could be a
minister or lay preacher from one of the Free Churches, if not an
Anglican priest or Reader.
The Bishop of Penrith, the Rt Revd Robert Freeman, said on
Wednesday that the plan would enable the diocese not just to
survive, but to grow. "The issue is the likelihood that in the next
five to ten years we are going to see a decline in the number of
stipendiary clergy, and we want to make sure we have got a
structure that means we are not only sustainable, but introducing
the possibility of growth," he said.
"I want to ensure that what we are doing across Cumbria is
missional - not simply managing decline. Strengthening our ministry
goes hand in hand with strengthening mission and evangelism.
Carrying on as we are is not an option."
Speaking after the vote at the diocesan synod on Saturday, the
Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, echoed Bishop
Freeman. "Most people don't like change, but doing nothing is not
Bishop Freeman said that the diocese expected some parishioners
to fear dramatic upheaval, but insisted that working with the
Methodists and the URC would not mean losing an Anglican
"It will go way beyond joint events or services, but we still
want to celebrate those different identities. We see the benefit of
the mixed economy. Rather than trying to create a homogeneous soup,
we want those different identities to be sustained."
Other Free Church congregations in the area could also be
involved if they showed an interest, Bishop Freeman said.
Bishop Freeman said that he would want to ask any hesitant
churchgoers why they were opposed, as there was no place for
sitting comfortably in existing structures that were not working.
"We would want to ask that question: 'Are you sure this isn't just
church for you, but this is church for all of your community?'"
Ultimately, he said, he saw Cumbria becoming an "ecumenical